Mr Ivan Cloete has finally received written confirmation from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform that the farm Colenso has been allocated to him and a 30-year lease agreement should be signed by the end of May 2021.Mr Cloete’s case became infamous when in February this year, the successful land reform beneficiary had departmental officials on his doorstep demanding him to hand over the keys to the farm they had allocated to him. The Department had apparently decided at the time to allocate the farm to a different co-operative of MK veterans, reportedly including at least one ANC politician. Mr Cloete instructed the LRC at the time to defend the attempted eviction and review the decision to allocate Colenso farm to a different group of beneficiaries.
This incident was only the most recent in a string of devastating encounters that Mr Cloete has had as a beneficiary of the redistribution programme. Initially a successful small farmer and prize-winning entrepreneur, Mr Cloete was first awarded a lease agreement on Bellevue farm in 2013. He had to share the lease with another beneficiary, however, which led to the farm being sub-divided into portions that did not support Mr Cloete’s scale of operation. He was subsequently moved to a new farm, Gelukwaarts, in the Piketberg area. However, when he commenced farming on Gelukwaarts, it was discovered that there was a person already living on the farm who claimed to have a valid lease agreement for the same property. While her claim was refuted by the Department, she was never evicted from the farm and began a campaign of terrorising Mr Cloete by vandalising the infrastructure and equipment on the farm and eventually hiring men to attack him and his family in March 2019.
The incident came to the attention of the parliamentary portfolio committee who demanded action from the Department to secure Mr Cloete and his family. He was hurriedly moved to yet another farm, Colenso, in the Darling area. As he had done before, Mr Cloete immediately started farming Colenso, determined to put the trauma of his previous experience behind him. He was assured that he would be granted a long term lease agreement for Colenso. He was finally on a farm where he could settle.
Until February this year, when he was informed that the Department made a U-turn and decided to kick him off Colenso. In response to correspondence from the LRC and renewed questions raised by the portfolio committee following these latest developments, Minister Didiza commissioned an investigation into the matter. On 15 March this year, without any communication to Mr Cloete or his legal representatives, Minister Didiza wrote to the portfolio committee to advise that the case “portrays the department as being cruel and lack of empathy in dealing with real issues that affect lives and livelihoods” and that a decision had been made to withdraw the decision to allocate Colenso to a new beneficiary. Public statements by the Minister to this effect followed.
However, Mr Cloete himself received no confirmation of this development. As a result, the LRC alerted the Department that it would proceed to the High Court to protect Mr Cloete’s rights. In response, the Department finally provided confirmation in writing to Mr Cloete last week that he will receive a 30-year lease agreement for farm Colenso.
Speaking from Colenso farm last week, Mr Cloete said: “The clouds of dust are hanging in the air as the soil is being turned in preparation for the season. The smell of fresh compost, strewn across the land, is in my nostrils. I have a skip in my step, focus on my goal, all the uncertainty of the last almost ten years has vanished into thin air. After so much struggle and sweat, the Department finally awarded Colenso Farm to me in writing. I am jumping with joyful noise. I greet the morning dew before the first rooster crows…the day’s tasks set out in front of me. Thirty years: the time has finally come to live my dreams. Finally, the Department sees the light; finally, they could also smell the fresh compost; finally, the Department bit the dust. Great gratitude and appreciation to those alongside me; those chasing justice and who understand farming as a ‘passion’. The LRC (Wilmien Wicomb),
Annette Steyn and Dr Ivan Meyer; your faith in me will also stay with me.”